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The Children

Premiered 1 May 2004 (Beltane)

 

Chapter 5

Heir Apparent

by

Dan Sewell Ward

(July 10th)

 

Stranger things had happened. Only Denise couldn't remember when or where. It was like the mountain dutifully coming to Mohammed. Or inexplicably a Congressman acting in the best interests of their country. One of those astounding events quite beyond one's comprehension!

In this case, Zachary D'Michael Gilan was coming to see Denise Spear!! It was a moment ripe for historical notation.

As her hands busied themselves rearranging the tangles of long blonde hair on the four year old standing before her, Denise recalled those moments a long time ago when Zak had first come to her. He had been the most masculine man she had ever met, carrying himself like a bull elephant in the heyday of his youth. Every attribute of his being displayed power, even when tempered with wisdom and an unconquerable, personal sense of justice. She had never seen anyone who carried such confidence and prowess.

For his part, Zak had found her singularly attractive and without the slightest hesitation had pursued her from the first moments of their meeting. Despite an intense attraction, she had also felt a sense of being totally overpowered, of being possessed by an all-possessive masculine force. Her concerns ultimately won the day and she shied from his advances.

But Zak had hardly noticed her hesitancy. Abruptly, his own values had seemed irrelevant and he ignored her refusals. Once alone, he had simply overpowered her, intimidating her with his total assumption of control. Her resistance had seemed so pointless, that she hardly resisted.

Inherent in Denise's character from her birth was a controlling attribute of giving, nurturing, and providing the best of feminine compassion. When they had found themselves alone, she had hardly thought not to hold Zak and stroke his brow. When he had gone much further, she had been torn between giving him her all, and simply protecting herself. In the end, she was pregnant, without any pretense of having the father acknowledge his progeny.

Nevertheless, motherhood had had all the wonderment that Denise had ever imagined, with or without a father-in-residence. For Denise, being a mother had made Zak's act endurable, even while its wrongness was acknowledged. It had been for her happiness after the fact, one which reduced the intrusion's impact on her life to acceptable levels.

Until the day her daughter had been raped. A great part of her life changed on the spot. The horror had been sufficient in itself, but Zak as the girl's father had refused to involve himself in any retribution or in bringing the perpetrator to justice; an act which from Denise's viewpoint constituted Zak's consent to rape. Thereafter, Denise had drawn the line, making it clear Zak would either assume his responsibilities or else. Denise had never been sure of exactly what "else" consisted of, but she was if nothing else, determined.

And now...? After years of seeming indifference, the man who had stomped over rivals without so much as breaking stride, who had made mincemeat of his own father in the process of wresting control of the family business, and who had established new extremes of male chauvinism, was now assuming his long dormant responsibilities, providing restitution to his former lover and current child, and, unbelievably, taking the time to call in a gentlemanly fashion on the mother of his child. Zak was actually coming to see Denise!

As her disentangled hair fell into their designed curls, the four year old laughed and bounded from the room. For a moment, Denise simply sat there, thinking, her hand momentarily stilled. An intense feeling of vindication welled up within her. Denise had seldom held a grudge (mothers tend to learn that such actions are pointless with children), but she could not help but feel a profound sense of joy. It had been so long! And often, so hard! For a moment tears discovered the softness of her cheeks. Then she smiled, dabbed away the moisture on her face, and straightened herself. At virtually the same moment, a limousine arrived in front of the school and Denise took the first of several, very deep breaths.

As Zak came in through the front door, Denise fairly beamed. He was on her turf now and he was about to be very impressed with all that she had been able to accomplish. He was going to see things that would yield whole new vistas of respect for his former lover. Her first love was about to realize her worth and then some! And Zak Gilan was going to leave her place knowing that Denise Spear was not someone with whom to trifle!

Keep in mind that Denise was not a world class authority on men or upon what might constitute the way to impress them. From her viewpoint, men were just large specimens of little boys. While Denise knew instinctively the right things to say to a small boy, she was not always in her league with grown men. At least those men that no longer acted like juveniles. Consequently, Denise would have her work cut out for her if she were to really impress the head of Worldwide Enterprises.

Fortunately, unbeknownst to her, she had help.

Denise watched Zak come into the room, dodging children as if working his way through a mine field, one laid out in a completely random fashion and equipped with small legs which allowed them to be mobile to the point of being erratic. Worse yet, there seemed to be a new attraction in another room such that the "mines" had just begun the process of abandoning the field and thus occasioning a great deal more movement than normal. Realizing that a collision might involve a spontaneous testing of their acoustic alarm system -- one which might easily exceed the decibel level of the loudest World War II model -- Zak momentarily froze in place. Then he looked up as if to obtain outside counsel on his plan of action.

Denise smiled brightly, while Zak replied with an attempted courageous smile. Then as she approached, moving within the surging mine field with no apparent effort, he saw her again for the first time in many years. His first reaction was to notice that her flowing hair was as beautiful as ever. The first thing that had attracted him, other than her excellent family connections, had been her hair. And incredibly, it was still just as beautiful, even with the few strands of grey delicately placed in a random but attractive fashion.

But the mine field was not into nostalgia. Instead it began to become increasingly verbal. Denise's smile quickly transformed to a maternal one, as she ordered, "Inside voices, children! Dennis!" A small boy, with the strange name of Dennis Moon, looked up, knowing he was on the spot. Denise smiled, and added, "Inside voices, Dennis."

Dennis smiled back, sensing the love and not the rebuke. "Yes, Ms. Spear!" He then made good his escape to the next room, as the already lowered level of noises faded into the distance. Or at least out of the room. Out of sight, out of mine -- so to speak.

With the minor bedlam becalmed itself, Denise came up directly to Zak, took his hands and gently kissed him on the cheek. "It's a delight to see you, Zak," she said. "I wasn't really convinced that you'd actually come here, but I'm delighted that you did."

"Why wouldn't I come?" Zak replied, as if mystified.

"There were a few times when you didn't," Denise answered gently.

"Well, you know," Zak struggled, "Business being what it is..." He didn't bother to finish the sentence inasmuch as neither one of them bought the excuse for a moment.

Denise, instead, took the high road. "Welcome to Children's Garden!" she announced. And then added, with a hint of pride, "Where there's room to grow."

"Clever tag line," Zak noted. Then his smile faded. "What's it mean?"

Denise did not even think to take offense at Zak's change of pace. Taking his arm, she began to steer him to one side of the room, out of the general flight pattern. "It means that every child is different, and is allowed to grow in their own way." When Zak only looked puzzled at the potentially revolutionary concept, Denise explained, "Too often, in a flower garden, we separate the reds, yellows and purple flowers into their own beds. Then, if a purple flower appears in a red bed, it's either transplanted to the purple bed, or it's pulled! Which is like having a child in a family who is different from his parents or his siblings being transplanted to another family!"

Zak seemed to consider the idea, but then belied any hint of seriousness with, "Sounds like a reasonable solution to me. Certainly, makes for a more efficient assembly line."

Denise ignored Zak's attempt at humor. "Instead! Children's Garden operates on the theory that a mingling of all the flowers is better. For the flowers and everyone else! It's a bit more chaotic, but the combinations that you get are much prettier -- colors flung all over the place in unique patterns. And most importantly, each flower can grow where ever it pleases, and with whomever. It's much more interesting that way."

"You're right," Zak conceded, "It's more chaotic."

"And does it meet with your approval?"

Zak looked at her with surprise. "Do you need my approval?"

"No." Denise smiled. "But since it's your money that's funding this and the other centers, I thought you might have an opinion."

"Yeah, well," Zak rambled, "It's for a good cause. You know me. I love children. It's the kids under foot that I can't tolerate."

"Yes, I'm well aware of that."

"As for my 'approval', even if you don't need it..."

Denise smiled brightly, knowing she had a captive audience. "Wait! I wouldn't want you to make any rash decisions. Let me show you around first."

Zak was immediately hesitant. "Do we have to go into the room full of kids?"

Denise laughed. Then guiding him to one of those exceedingly small chairs commonly found in pre-schools, she said, "Of course not. We can sit here and I'll tell you all about it."

Zak was not a small man. He was well over six feet, with a broad shouldered frame. The idea of sitting in a chair, perhaps nine inches square seemed risky at best. But being practical and problem solving, he dropped down on two adjacent chairs, each cheek now independently supported. For a moment he waited to see if either one was crumpling under his weight. When he felt reasonably confident of his position -- knowing, of course, that he had only a few additional inches to fall -- and feeling somewhat grounded, he smiled and turned to Denise. "So. Where's the milk and cookies?"

Denise frowned in a motherly way. "We never serve either! The only milk we would consider healthy is from a mother's breast and you're too old for that."

"No milk!?"

"It's terrible for children's allergies! And sugar we avoid like the plague."

Zak was skeptical. "How do the kids like your philosophy?"

"Once we wean them off sugar," Denise answered, matter of factly, "They discover the wonder of fresh fruit and veggies. We even have our own fruit trees! It's fascinating to watch a child discover the growth of a peach to the point where they can eat it. We even bake our own bread, letting the kids vary the whole wheat flour ingredients. They love it!"

Zak was actually impressed. At least slightly. "Really!?"

"Really!" Then Denise smiled even more. "But there's something else you might find even more amazing." Zak looked with considerable skepticism at Denise, knowing that he was about to be more than amazed. Denise simply smiled a bit more broadly. "We've eliminated competition among the children. No child versus child situations."

"Are you crazy?" When it was apparent that Denise was, Zak glanced down to the floor, wondering where he had gone wrong. "I'm paying for some fifty odd centers who will be teaching against competition!?"

"All children are unique! Beautiful individuals and part of the whole! How can you compare them or judge one better than the other!?"

"But Denise," Zak rebelled, only to quickly remember his diplomacy skills. "My dear, how can you not teach these kids competition? It's a competitive world out there!"

"Only for the moment."

"But, you can't have real progress without competition!!"

Preferring her own expression in lieu of all the commonly used variations of bull- and cow- prefixed exclamations of serious disagreement, Denise replied strongly with, "Animal cookies!!" That alone stopped Zak cold, such that Denise took advantage of his momentary, off-balanced position. "Competition causes anxiety, an utterly useless emotion. It's wasteful, inefficient, redundant, duplicative, solving the same problems over and over. It undermines motivation by replacing the idea of accomplishing something, with beating the other guy."

"Okay, okay," Zak conceded, recognizing Denise's intensity, and knowing better than attempting to divert it. Zak had long since recognized the utter futility of not acquiescing to Denise's demands. After all, they were invariably reasonable, and opposition was truly pointless. Particularly when she could be a great deal more stubborn than any male he had ever encountered. Accordingly, he held up his hands in immediate surrender.

But Denise was not finished. "Competition is also anti-individual. It actually promotes dependency, forcing people to depend upon external validation, someone else's evaluation for knowing their own worth! It destroys self esteem and poisons relationships!"

Zak insisted on admitting defeat. "Okay!! You've convinced me!!"

"No, I haven't!" Denise's voice was strong and confident. "Not yet, anyway!"

When Zak only looked helpless before the blitzkrieg, Denise continued, "Cooperation, on the other hand, allows people to share their talents and abilities and ultimately learn more and accomplish more. If you want true excellence, you have to eliminate competition!"

Zak decided joining was his only escape. "You have to work together!"

"Exactly!" Denise suddenly felt that she was reaching him.

"Of course," Zak started, apparently not content to leave well enough alone, "Of course, the last time I cooperated in school, they called it cheating!"

Denise's response was simple and to the point. "It was a stupid system!!" For a moment she frowned. "For the most part, it still is." Then she added, more forcefully, "Children's Garden, and all the clones we're establishing..." Denise's smile then turned mischievous, "With your money..." Then seriously, "will not be stupid! They will be infinitely better!"

Zak remained quiet, watching Denise for several long moments. His conceptual defense system, built up over decades of brainwashing, tried to rally, to repel the invading hordes. Sort of like a woman's egg with the sperm hitting from all sides. Ultimately, you know the shield will be breached (and somebody will be effectively screwed). But considering the number of conceptual changes Zak had already been forced to make in recent times, it hardly seemed all that threatening.

Denise made one more blast on her trumpet, although her voice was soft and gentle. "We're into children creating, instead of only guiding them. Part of the room to grow idea."

And the walls came tumbling down! Zak hated that! All he had done lately was have one truth after another dumped at his feet, truths which he couldn't avoid. It was becoming really uncomfortable, despite the fact that for every old tape discarded, it made discarding the next old tape easier. But the pace of change was increasing! Zak was almost relieved, knowing or hoping -- more peaceful times were ahead.

Yeah. He actually thought he was going to get some rest soon. Amazing.

As he took a long, deep breath, his body's signal that the onslaught was over, the walls breached, and a new idea's flag waving over the ramparts; Denise patted him on the knee. Then, as if on cue, she rose, excused herself and walked purposefully out of the room. Zak merely sat there, letting his accustomed vitality reemerge after yet another paradigm shift .

Meanwhile, Cathy Grey didn't know what a paradigm was, and didn't care. Nick-named by her overwhelmed parents as Catherine the Great, she was a precocious three year old whose only limitation was that she had not yet picked up all the jargon. Instead she simply took action, even when the terminology was obscure. She was now engaged in a pressing environmental concern -- the preservation of a particular gerbil in the next room. Quietly, she walked into the room and made her way to a cabinet next to where Zak was still sitting. She smiled slightly at Zak, but otherwise made no acknowledgment of his existence. Instead she opened the cabinet to retrieve a small package of food, expressly packaged for gerbils.

Zak smiled in return, and as Cathy looked for her gerbil's favorite carton, Zak reached out and patted the girl on the head. Affectionately, and without the slightest ulterior motive.

Naturally, Cathy was grossly offended. Even outraged. "Hey!!" she responded. "I didn't give you permission to enter my space!!"

Zak went into immediate shock. To no avail -- Cathy was also unfamiliar with shock, cardiac arrest, and CPR. She was, however, well accomplished with the Heimlich maneuver for dislodging food particles in the throat, having had it demonstrated to her eight weeks ago and since taken the opportunity to practice it several times a week on her classmates. Just for fun. But right at this moment, she was into the inviolability of her space.

"This is my body! My space! You're not allowed into my space without permission!"

Zak was the kind of corporate businessman who could fire a lifelong friend without a qualm should the need arise. He could, as they say, "kick butt" regardless of the recipient. Dwelling on the past, or considering someone else's feelings were foreign to him. All others were expendable in the long run.

But a three year old with some very definite ideas about her rights and privileges, was too much for the head of industry. Perhaps it was the suddenness or unexpectedness, but Zak, without thinking, apologized. Had historians of the era known of this singular event, they would have taken note and probably devoted a chapter to the event. But typically they were asleep at the switch and consequently history was the loser for it.

Of course, the apology was not one of your classics. And Zak being quite new at the experience, fairly well stumbled over it, fumbling with words and feelings. Fortunately, his awkwardness conveyed itself to Cathy, who feeling sorry for the village idiot, smiled at his attempt.

"That's okay. I guess you're too old to know any better." With that, she grabbed her gerbils' grits and walked briskly out of the room.

Zak's whole being rose up in wrath. Lightening flashed, Thunderclouds rolled. 'Too OLD to know any better!!!!??' he bellowed in his mind. 'Why that little twit!!' Then he caught himself. The words rolled through his mind again, like an incessant bell. Only, with each passage, the way was smoother. Slowly, Zak began to suspect that Cathy might have been closer to the truth than he might have thought. What with all the changes going on in the world right now, being old and experienced could be a common affliction, even plague status among the population! He smiled forlornly at his thought, the last few years having made it clear to Zak, that hanging on to the past, replaying the old tapes, truly had become a disease of the old (whether in their seventies, or in their twenties). Worse yet, Zak knew that the future and his ability to deal with it was becoming even less clear.

But before he could dwell on what was becoming a traditional state of affairs, Denise returned. Zak looked up, delighted to see someone with whom he had a marginal chance of communicating. "Where did you go?"

Denise immediately smiled as she answered matter of factly, "Dennis had spilled his watercolors on the floor and was a bit distressed."

Zak found the answer nonsensical. "But you were with me. How did you know the kid needed anything when you were in here?"

Denise hardly noticed Zak's bewilderment. "It's called motherhood, Zak. Or perhaps the feminine. Women have always been able to hold a child on one hip, wash the dishes with the other hand, talk on the telephone with the receiver cocked in one ear, have a typewriter on the kitchen table with a half-finished novel, and still be listening for the baby in the other room. All simultaneously. It's called being receptive as opposed to the male's ability to focus. When it comes to children, a woman can be very busy with her mind heavily engaged, and still sense her children's needs -- even when the child is in another room or across the country."

Zak was still puzzled. "But these aren't your kids." Then Zak had a stunning thought. "Are they?"

Denise smiled broadly. "Maybe not my natural children, but definitely adopted, even if only a temporary adoption. And adopted kids qualify, such that there's really no limit to the number I can tune into and occasionally look after."

"Amazing!" Zak was seriously amazed.

"You've probably always thought that I was a little scatter-brained," Denise added. When Zak resisted the opportunity to agree, Denise smiled. "But being scatter-brained is good. It implies a brain scattered in all directions, picking up input from a wide variety of sources. Sort of a wide band receiver. Excellent for listening to sources that one might have forgotten about. It's very feminine. The sort of thing we need a lot more of."

Zak grimaced slightly. "I think I know someone else who would happily agree with you."

"It's the coming thing," Denise added.

"And you're running all these schools on this principle?"

"Not exclusively. We simply don't downgrade the feminine qualities. We give it equal status." Denise's smile then turned mischievous, as she found the entry for her prime-time revelation. "And we'll be carrying this all through the grades, eventually through high school -- maybe even college."

Zak was, in fact, stunned. Being the great industrialist, his stunning was not all that evident -- although Denise was pretty well certain his fleetingly momentary blank expression implied the condition. Zak just sat there, for a moment. "Through college!?"

"With your money!" Denise's smile was gleeful, if not delighted. "We're going to provide a wonderful alternative to public education!"

Zak was almost aghast. "What's wrong with public education?"

There are times when one is momentarily stunned and in this condition of only marginal consciousness, it is never an indicator of brilliance and genius level thinking to open one's mouth. Much less ask a question capable of triggering a national debate. But Zak had let his brain-mouth coordination outrun his good sense, and he was now about to reap the results of his rash action.

Denise was momentarily surprised by the invitation to replay the tape on 'What's Wrong with the System; Part Forty Two". Then she smiled a devilish smile, her eyes shining with anticipated glee. "Well..." she began, her prey well within her grasp, "For starters, our public school system is specifically designed to produce robots: predictable, controllable robots. It's a psychopathic institution producing irrelevant, absurd adults, who are dependent upon others to fill their hours, initiate meaning, and give substance and pleasure to their lives."

"Huh?" Zak had not yet grasped the idea that he had inadvertently set Denise off on one of her favorite discourses.

"It promotes dependency and aimlessness -- personalities addicted to drugs, alcohol, gambling, brainless competition, recreational sex, pornographic violence, and lives devoted solely to the accumulation of toys!"

There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the entry of the terrible trio of four year olds was predicated on Denise's emphasis on the word, "toys". Nevertheless, the three youngsters, Gorny, Selene, and Gretchen, came cruising into the room, obviously on some grand quest. You could tell it was a quest, inasmuch as they were dragging a large mop, a cardboard cutout of a white swan, a box of string, glue and paperclips, a small inner-tube, and three sets of bells -- the kind any reindeer would have been proud to wear. It was probably the bells that caught Zak's attention. Or perhaps Gretchen's comment as she passed by: "I sure hope this works!" Three years hence, Zak would recall that wondrous moment when it did.

Denise, however, instinctively knew that there was no danger, whatever idea the three minds might have conjured up from the depths. Besides, she was on a roll. "As John Gatto, an award winning public school teacher, has so aptly pointed out, the children, the products of the public school system, have almost no curiosity, are indifferent to the adult world, are ahistorical and have no sense of the future, are uneasy with intimacy or candor, are actively cruel to each other, and are materialistic, passive, dependent, and timid."

Zak raised his arm slightly, pointing to the three, quest-minded girls, as they carried their props into the next room. "What do you suppose they're about to...?" he began.

"The truly dismal part, though, is that the children are never given the time to learn on their own. This is horrendous! It's well established that the only education of lasting value is what children teach themselves -- what interests them, what challenges them, what they themselves select!"

Zak was still on his last question. Bewildered, he asked, "What did they select?"

"In any case," Denise smiled, "You're funding the vanguard in a new educational system. One that nurtures, even as it gives the child room to grow." For several moments, she watched Zak, appraising his reaction, as well as wondering about his motivations.

Zak was about to answer with a sarcastic quip, when Gretchen came rushing around the corner. Not running, mind you; running was not allowed inside. More of a very hurried walk. Her expression was one of intense interest and eager anticipation. She fairly flashed past Zak and Denise, as Denise, gently placing her hand on Zak's knee, asked, "By the way, Zak, why are you doing this?"

Zak followed Gretchen's 'inside-dash', but then felt the import of Denise' question. He turned to her expectant, smiling face, knowing that the question was only moderately important to her. He deferred slightly. "You know me... Always believed in taking care of my own." When Denise's smile changed just enough to allow a hint of suspicion, Zak added, "Of course, it wasn't entirely my idea. I sort of had help."

Denise laughed. "Yes, I know. Iris mentioned something to that effect."

"Then why did you ask?" Zak was genuinely puzzled.

"I just wanted to hear it from you." Denise was content, although Zak's mind was still a mystery to her. She had never been sure why Zak had chosen her for his lover a long time ago. Nor why he had never married her, and left her soon after she had become pregnant. Denise had assumed a political marriage was inevitable, but somehow it hadn't worked out that way. Still, she was now content, doing what really mattered. There was, however, one other item of business.

"I talked to Perses, yesterday," Denise casually mentioned.

Not his favorite subject, Zak shifted, uncomfortably within his twin chairs -- which is a bit more difficult to do than you might think inasmuch as the chairs tended to shift with him. "And what did your daughter have to say?"

"She had a lot of complaints about all her problems, and how hard it was to get anyone to do their job. But underneath it all, it was clear that she was quite pleased with recent events."

'She damn well better be!' Zak thought. 'After buying out the whole damn hospital for her, I'm not about to listen to any complaints!' But to Denise, he merely said, "I'm glad to hear it."

"I'm glad you took such an interest in her," Denise said sincerely. "Thanks."

Zak might have said more, but it was then that Gretchen rushed past, carrying a small, child's piano and a roll of toilet paper. Zak watched her dash past, fairly bubbling with eagerness. Denise took note of Gretchen's activity, but hardly stirred until the first signs of the stampede.

Buffalo stampedes used to be all the rage in the Midwest . It was virtually the only form of entertainment the shaggy beasts had, other than an occasional circle dance for the benefit of a pack of wolves. In recent years, however, the stampede has been virtually extinct, the key ingredient of a large number of healthy buffalos being absent.

The children of Children's Garden, however, being uninformed of this unfortunate fact, inadvertently attempted to replicate a buffalo stampede. The trigger to the stampede appeared to be Gretchen's recent addition to the terrible trio's project, and the potential for an unguided, chaotic and possibly fun-filled learning experience. Three rooms emptied in a matter of seconds, beginning with a few intrepid youngsters and quickly followed by all those still in training for intrepid youngster status.

Zak looked at Denise, unsure of himself. "You think maybe we should...?"

Denise, rising, her own curiosity aroused, replied, "This may be worth seeing."

And it was. Really.

 

Chapter Four The Return

Forward to:

Chapter Six The Wilds of Nepal

 

 

               

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